Isaiah 1

For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning,
that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4

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 A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2005 James Melough

1:1.  “The vision of Isaiah, the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.”


Amoz means to be strong, courageous; Judah, he shall be praised; Jerusalem, dual peace shall be taught: lay (set) ye double peace; Uzziah, my strength is Jehovah; Jotham, Jehovah is perfect; Ahaz, possessor; Hezekiah, strengthened of Jehovah


The meanings of biblical names frequently shed light on the meaning of the passages where they occur, but such doesn’t appear to be so in the present instance.


1:2.  “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth; for the Lord hath spoken: I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me.”


The heavens and earth are called upon to attend to the Lord’s complaint against rebel Israel, a people whom He had nurtured as a loving father does his children, their recompense of His kindness being blatant rebellion against Him; but even a cursory reading of Scripture reveals that Israel is representative of the human race, and no one can dispute that her revolt has been duplicated by every nation and every individual, beginning with Adam whose folly brought sin into the world, and a curse upon all his descendants, for “all have sinned,” Romans 3:23.


1:3.  “The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass, his master’s crib, but Israel doth not know; my people doth not consider.”


Even the ox and ass know their owners who care for them and provide their food and shelter, but ungrateful Israel refused to even acknowledge God as their Creator and Provider.  They never gave Him a thought.  Nor has it ever been different.  Men still refuse to acknowledge their dependence upon God, not only for their daily needs, but for the very breath they draw.  They live as though He didn’t exist, the empty ritual which Christendom calls worship being nothing more than a humanly contrived religious form which gratifies the flesh and glorifies man, but which insults God.


1:4.  “Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the Lord, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they are gone away backward.”


How vile Israel had become is declared in their being described as sinful, “laden with iniquity,” i.e., bowed down under a ponderous weight of moral evil; their being called corrupters meaning literally that they were as a putrid carcase defiling everything that came in contact with them.


“a seed of evildoers ... corrupters” means that they came from a long line of equally degenerate ancestors stretching all the way back to Adam who first brought sin into the world, and that they themselves would also transmit the contagion to succeeding generations.  And their vile state was not because God had abandoned them, but because they had forsaken Him, and had then proceeded to provoke His righteous anger by their ever increasing evildoing.


1:5.  “Why should ye be stricken any more? ye will revolt more and more: the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint.”


Chastisement hadn’t compelled them to forsake their evil ways, so God asks rhetorically what good would be accomplished by continued correction.  Nothing would induce them to abandon the path of folly.  They were bent on rebellion, and would not be turned aside.


The head speaks of the intellect, as the heart does of the emotions, and man in the days of Moses was just as vile as in the days of Noah, relative to which it is written, “And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually,” Genesis 6:5.  “Sick” in the present context means diseased; and “faint,” is related to the uncleanness associated with menstruation.  Israel had become utterly vile, but since she represents the whole human race, the description applies also to twenty-first century man in spite of all his education, ingenuity, and sophistication.


1:6.  “From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores: that have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment.”


“putrifying” means “running.”  It would be difficult to imagine a more loathsome sight, yet this is how God saw Israel then, and how He sees humanity today.  Western society’s blindness to its moral filthiness is disclosed in its failure to recognize that many so-called “heathen” nations are revolted by the sex and virtual nudity that mark not only the entertainment industry, but much of our normal life-style.


The failure to close, bind up or mollify the filthy sores points to the brazenness with which sin is practiced in today’s society.


1:7.  “Your country is desolate, your cities are burned with fire: your land, strangers devour it in your presence, and it is desolate as overthrown by strangers.”


“desolate” here means devastated, burned with fire, become a desert, lies in ruins.  When first given to them, that country, Canaan, merited the description “flowing with milk and honey,” but their flagrant disobedience had caused God to withhold the rain, to send blight, locusts, and mildew, and to give it over to Israel’s enemies.  Only willfully blind eyes will fail to see in the terrible so-called “natural” disasters that have recently devastated so many parts of the world, God’s chastisement of man’s rebellion against His rule.  (It will be objected that such disasters have always been.  They have, and for the very same reason: chastisement of man’s rebellion; but man, deliberately oblivious of God’s existence, refuses to admit that these phenomena are God’s wrathful response to man’s mutiny).


1:8.  “And the daughter of Zion is left as a cottage in a vineyard, as a lodge in a garden of cucumbers, as a besieged city.”


Israel whom God had desired to make ruler amongst the nations, had forfeited that high privilege by her disobedience, so that instead of being the governmental center of the world, she had become like a hut or shelter in a vineyard, a shed in a cucumber patch, or a city besieged by the armies of its enemies.  She had become a despised thing; but in her fallen state God would have us see foreshadowed the fate of our present civilization in the impending Great Tribulation, as described in Revelation chapters 14-18.


1:9.  “Except the Lord of hosts had left unto us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom, and we should have been like unto Gomorrah.”


Sodom meaning fettered, and Gomorrah meaning bondage, two cities synonymous with sin, had been utterly destroyed, so that their location is now unknown, it being mere surmise that their ruins may lie under the waters of the Dead Sea.  But for the Lord’s mercy in preserving a small remnant of Israel they too would have vanished from the earth under the merited judgment of God; and concerning the whole human race it is equally true that “It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not,” Lamentations 3:22.  Did we receive our just deserts we should all have been banished into hell.


1:10.  “Hear the word of the Lord, ye rulers of Sodom; give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah.”


Sodom and Gomorrah were fitting metaphors for an Israel whose depravity was greater than theirs, for she sinned against light that hadn’t been given them.  The picture however, continues to be of today’s society, for sodomy, which God has declared to be a capital offence, see Romans 1:32, is practiced brazenly, and in many states has been legitimized by legalizing the “marriages” of these vile perverts. 


But all of this points to the imminence of the Lord’s return to rapture His Church home to heaven, an event that will be quickly followed by the terrible judgments of the Great Tribulation.  Lot was a citizen of Sodom, and relative to his departure from that wicked city it is recorded that “the same day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all.  Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of man is revealed,” Luke 17:28-30.  No student of Scripture will deny that Lot’s departure from Sodom is a symbolic picture of the rapture of the Church.


1:11.  “To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the Lord: I am full of the burnt-offerings of rams, and the fat of fed-beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or lambs, or of he goats.”


It might have been supposed that apostate Israel would long ago have abandoned the charade of worshiping Jehovah, but she hadn’t; and it might be supposed that an equally apostate professing church would also have discontinued the Pharisaical sham which she calls worship, but she hasn’t.


1:12.  “When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts?”


An indignant outraged God asked who had commanded them to come into His presence with such offerings, when He had made it clear that He would accept only those that had been prompted by obedient penitential love.  Were not their ears deaf to His voice, and their hearts ignorant of His character, apostate Christendom would hear the same angry question.


1:13.  “Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting.”


“vain” is used here in the sense of being useless, worthless, evil; and “abomination” means disgusting, abhorrent, repugnant.


“I cannot away with” is better translated “I cannot endure iniquity; my soul abhors your fasts and festivals; your special days, etc., disgust and anger Me.”  He is no less disgusted and angered by the travesty which Christendom calls worship.  Where, for example, can we find Scriptural authority for the division of believers into two classes: clergy and laity; for the religious titles and vestments of Roman Catholicism and Protestantism alike; the magnificent buildings, paintings, statues, choirs, etc.?  All of these are a far cry from the Scriptural simplicity of the worship and service of the first century believers, and are an abomination to God.


1:14.  “Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them.”


It is instructive to note that God describes them as your new moons, feasts, etc.  Israel had so corrupted them that God disowned them as being of His appointment; and declared them all to be weariness rather than worship in His sight.  They had become a burden to Him.  Can it be doubted that He is any less wearied and disgusted with what Christendom calls worship?


1:15.  “And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you; yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood.”


When praying the Jews customarily stretched out their arms palms up, symbolic of their expectation that God would fill their hands, i.e., grant their petitions; but He assured them that their hypocritical prayers would go unanswered: He refused to even look upon them when they prayed.  It was their custom too to make many, i.e., long repetitious prayers, hoping that the length of their prayers would induce God to give what they asked, but His attitute to such prayer is recorded in the NT, “But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking,” Matthew 6:7.


Their hands being “full of blood” may mean that they had actually committed murder, or that they had caused suffering by refusing to minister to the needs others.


The symbolic picture continues to be of Christendom, for what God condemned in Israel is what abounds today in the lives of multitudes who call themselves Christian.  Their hypocrisy is no less abhorrent to God than was that of Israel.


1:16.  “Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil;”


In the present context washing and making clean are metaphors for repentant confession; and their putting away the evil of their doings, and ceasing to do evil, are the equivalent of their abandoning their sinful lifestyles, and the doing of good rather than evil.  He who would enjoy a right relationship with God must do the same, a reformed lifestyle being the evidence of a genuine conversion, as it is written in Matthew 7:20, “... by their fruits (deeds) ye shall know them.”


1:17.  “Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.”


Its being necessary for them to learn to do good, and seek judgment, i.e., act justly towards others, reminds us that conversion introduces the believer to a learning experience that is lifelong, as taught in Isaiah 28:9-10, “Whom shall we teach knowledge? and whom shall we make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts.  For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little,” the admonition being continued in the NT, 1 Peter 2:1-2, “Wherefore laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings, as newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby.”


“... seek judgment” is also rendered, seek justice: make justice your aim: pursue justice: set your hearts on justice.


“... relieve the oppressed” is also translated, correct the oppressor: redress the wronged: restrain violence: champion the oppressed: right the wrong.


“... judge the fatherless” means vindicate the fatherless: hear the orphan’s plea: defend the right of the orphan: protecting the orphan.


“... plead for the widow,” is also rendered, defend the widow: champion the cause of the widow: plead the widow’s cause: give the widow redress.


1:18.  “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”


This is unbelievable condescension on the part of God, that He, the Creator, should be willing to reason or discuss the matter with the mutinous creature, assuring the rebel that his sins which are as scarlet can be expiated, and he translated into a state of perfect righteousness that enables him to stand before God as though he had never sinned, his purity being pictured as the whiteness of new-fallen snow, or as washed wool.


Believers - those who have undergone that supernatural transformation - should never cease to thank God for the means by which that miracle has been made possible: the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.  It is only by virtue of His vicarious death, the shedding of His precious blood, that the scarlet of sin can be transmuted into the whiteness of absolute purity.


The Wycliffe Bible Commentary points out that “the crimson dye of the scarlet worm here referred to was absolutely colorfast and indelible, nevertheless the grace of God was able to cleanse them completely and restore them to the snowy whiteness of innocence.”


1:19.  “If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land:”


The spiritual equivalent of the literal abundance available to obedient Israel, is the immeasurable profusion of the spiritual blessings that are ours in Christ, but it is to be noted that they are available only to the “willing and obedient.”  We must have the will to search out and gather up these riches, for if no labor was required to possess them we would underestimate their value, and the vacuum produced by idleness would soon be filled with wantonness.


1:20.  “But if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.


Foolish Israel did rebel, and the warning was fulfilled, those who escaped the sword being carried captive into Assyria in 701 BC, and again into Chaldea in 588-587 BC, those captivities being types of the coming terrible judgments that will devastate the earth in the impending Great Tribulation, for Israel’s rebellion and chastisement are foreshadowings of the present rebellion, not only of professing Christendom, but of the whole world.


1:21.  “How is the faithful city become an harlot! it was full of judgment; righteousness lodged in it; but now murderers.”


Jerusalem, meaning dual peace shall be taught: lay (set) ye double peace, had sunk to unimaginable depths of wickedness.  The city that had once been synonymous with righteousness and impartial judgment had become a spiritual harlot, and the dwelling place of murderers; but her most heinous crime was still future in Isaiah’s day: the murder of the Lord Jesus Christ.


As has been noted already however, Israel’s history is the symbolic foreshadowing of the history of the world, and of the great harlot church located in Rome, and wielding her evil spiritual tyranny over the lives of countless millions of hapless dupes, her bejeweled hands dripping with the blood of myriads of those she has tortured and killed for refusing to bow to her Satanic tyranny.  Nor should anyone be deceived by the pious mask she wears today.  She is the same murderous harlot as in the past, the only difference being that since the days of Luther and the reformation she can no longer practice her devilish villainy as blatantly as when she ruled both spiritually and politically, and rendered account to no one.


But the evil isn’t confined to the religious realm.  Hidden behind the glittering facade of the world’s political, financial, academic, scientific, and artistic realms, lurks in the dark recesses of the evil spiritual web the malignant controlling genius, Satan, the prince of darkness, the embodiment of iniquity, but disguised as an angel of light, see 2 Corinthians 11:13-15, “For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ.  And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works.” 


1:22.  “Thy silver is become dross, thy wine mixed with water:”


The spiritual truth being proclaimed here transcends the literal, for silver is the Scriptural symbol of salvation; and wine, of joy.  Dross is defined as waste matter taken off molten metal during smelting, essentially metallic in character.  It is here an apt symbol of the so called gospel preached today in apostate Christendom, the essence of which is that if you do the best you can, the sacrifice of Christ will make up the deficit, thus making His death a mere minor adjunct to our own good works; but God’s warning is, “We are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags,” Isaiah 64:6.  “As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: there is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.  They have all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is not that doeth good, no, not one ... For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God,” Romans 3:10-23.


As for the “wine mixed with water,” the truth being declared is that there is no true, lasting joy apart from that possessed by the man who has the assurance of heaven through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as his Savior.  The watered wine is a fitting symbol of the world’s joys: they afford no lasting pleasure or satisfaction.


1:23.  “Thy princes are rebellious, and companions of thieves: every one loveth gifts, and followeth after rewards: they judge not the fatherless, neither doth the cause of the widow come unto them.”


The princes were the rulers, and as God’s representatives they were responsible to administer justice impartially, but they had rebelled against God, and had become confederate with thieves, for they dispensed justice in favor of those who could pay the highest bribes.  They cared nothing about the widows and orphans and the poor in general.  Nor has anything changed.  The same chicanery still governs the operation of the world’s legal and political systems.  He who can pay the fee of the most astute attorney is usually sure of obtaining a favorable verdict, while the poor man suffers the full penalty of the law if he is guilty; or is denied justice when he seeks redress in court.


1:24.  “Therefore saith the Lord, the Lord of hosts, the mighty One of Israel, Ah, I will ease me of mine adversaries, and avenge me of mine enemies:”


Sinful Israel had exhausted God’s patience, and now He was about to enter into judgment with her, nor would she be able to bribe her way out from under His just sentence.  The lesson being taught is that the only way to be justified in His sight is to admit that we are guilty sinners, and see in the Lord Jesus Christ the Savior Who has paid our debt by His Own precious blood, God’s response to that confession and faith being to pardon all our sins, on the perfectly just basis of Christ’s vicarious death, He having died the death we deserved to die.


1:25.  “And I will turn my hand upon thee, and purely purge away thy dross, and take away all thy tin (alloy).”


This teaches the lesson that God’s chastisement is never vindictive.  It is designed to elicit the repentant confession that enables Him to pardon, and extend blessing.  Those who find themselves in the eternal torment of hell and the lake of fire will be they who refused to make that confession on earth, the realization coming too late, that it was refusal to confess that has made them heirs of never-ending torment.


1:26.  “And I will restore thy judges as at the first, and thy counsellors as at the beginning: afterward thou shalt be called, The city of righteousness, the faithful city.”


It is generally agreed that this refers to Israel’s millennial blessing.


1:27.  “Zion shall be redeemed with judgment, and her converts with righteousness.”


There are two senses in which Israel’s redemption here is to be viewed: first, for the Israelite as well as the Gentile, it is the judgment borne by the Lord Jesus Christ at Calvary that enables God to justly pardon the believer’s sin; and “her converts” reminds us that the pardon is available only to “converts,” i.e., those who judge themselves, and make honest confession of their sins, and who trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as the One who has died in their guilty stead to expiate their sins, thus enabling God to pardon them, and receive them into eternal bliss in His sinless heaven.


The second view is that of repentant Israel enjoying fulness of blessing on the millennial earth, before passing into eternal bliss when the present heavens and earth will have been replaced with new ones, and in which there will be perfect righteousness.


1:28.  “And the destruction of the transgressors and of the sinners shall be together, and they that forsake the Lord shall be consumed.”


This destruction does not mean annihilation, for Scripture does not teach cessation of existence, but rather the consignment of the unrepentant to everlasting torment in the lake of fire.  Likewise their being consumed doesn’t mean that they will cease to exist, but that their eternal experience will be that of having to endure the awful indescribable pain of an eternally burning fire.


Those who forsake the Lord, i.e., fail to trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior, cannot begin to imagine what a dreadful thing it will be to be forsaken eternally by God.


1:29.  “For they shall be ashamed of the oaks which ye have desired, and ye shall be confounded for the gardens that he have chosen.”


The idolaters who have worshiped carved images in their groves and sacred gardens, and in the process have engaged in every form of sexual vileness, will realize the enormity of their folly when it is too late for salvation.  And so will it be also with those of our modern world who abandon themselves to the gratification of every fleshly lust in defiance of God’s commands.


1:30.  “For ye shall be as an oak whose leaf fadeth, and as gardens that hath no water.”


This is the description of the sinners mentioned in the preceding verses.  Their spiritually dead state is depicted under the figure of dead trees from which the withered leaves fall, and by parched fruitless gardens.  So is the life of the man who ignores God, and who lives only to gratify the lusts of the flesh.


How different is the metaphoric picture of the godly man described in Psalm 1:1-4 “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly ... he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither: and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.  The ungodly are not so: but are like the chaff which the wind driveth away.”


1:31.  “And the strong shall be as tow, and the maker of it as a spark, and they shall both burn together, and none shall quench them.”


The strong one here is the unbelieving natural self-sufficient man living in defiant independence of God, in Whose sight he is simply as tow, which is the fiber of flex, hemp, or jute prepared for spinning.  It burns quickly, and can be ignited easily by just a spark.  It would be difficult to find a more fitting picture of the unconverted man.  The only thing between him and the unquenchable fire of hell is the breath in his nostrils.

[Isaiah 2]

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